By Colin Callander
Great Britain & Ireland’s selectors have named seven Englishmen in their 10-man team for next month’s Walker Cup match against the United States at Seminole Golf Club in Florida.
Barclay Brown (age 20), Alex Fitzpatrick (22), Angus Flanagan (21), Ben Jones (21), Matty Lamb (23), Joe Long (23) and Ben Schmidt (18) are joined by Scotland’s Sandy Scott (22) and Irish duo John Murphy (22) and Mark Power (20) for what promises to be a daunting test against a heralded home team featuring the top three players in the world.
Two other Englishmen, Jack Dyer (23) and Jake Bolton (22), were named as reserves for a match in which the GB&I team will endeavour to win for the first time since 2015, and claim their first victory on U.S. soil since 2001 when future tour winners Luke Donald, Graeme McDowell, Nick Dougherty, Michael Hoey and Marc Warren were part of the team that prevailed at Ocean Forest Golf Club on Sea Island, Georgia.
Their preparations have hardly been helped by COVID-19 which decimated the domestic 2020 season and meant that very little competitive golf has been played on this side of the Atlantic so far this year. Nevertheless, despite all the disruptions, the announcement of this year’s team caused fewer eyebrows to be raised than is often the case.
Long, from the Lansdown club in Somerset, was a certain starter after beating Joe Harvey in the final of last year’s Amateur Championship, while Fitzpatrick also earned an automatic place as one of the two highest-ranked GB&I players on the World Amateur Golf Ranking. He secured two points in GB&I’s defeat at the hands of the Americans two years ago at Hoylake. He heads to Seminole on the back of an impressive recent run of results in the States during which he finished tied second in the Jones Cup, recorded top-five finishes in both the Wake Forest Invitational and the Arizona Collegiate before claiming his maiden collegiate title at the Valspar Classic.
... despite all the disruptions, the announcement of this year’s team caused fewer eyebrows to be raised than is often the case.
Fitzpatrick has been in fine fettle to date this season but the same cannot be said for Scott, from Nairn. He is the top-ranked GB&I player on the WAGR table at No 7, but hasn’t played a competitive round since September thanks to a wrist injury which required surgery. That is hardly ideal preparation for a match against a U.S. team which includes the two top-ranked players in the world. However, qualms about his fitness were quelled during a series of telephone conversations with GB&I captain and fellow Scot Stuart Wilson, and Scott now has the chance to add to the 2½ points he wrested from the Americans in his first appearance in the match two years ago.
Scott (Texas Tech) and Fitzpatrick (Wake Forest) are two of the six members of this year’s GB&I team currently playing collegiate golf in the States, the others being Flanagan, Power, Murphy and Brown.
Flanagan (Minnesota) and Power (Wake Forest) both tasted success against the U.S. as part of the winning International team at last year’s Arnold Palmer Cup at Bay Hill in Orlando, Florida, and together with Murphy (Louisville) have been performing consistently on the collegiate circuit. Brown (Stanford) is still to scale the heights he achieved during the 2020 season but he finished fifth in the recent Bandon Dunes Championship and so also arrives at Seminole with a bit of form under his belt.
Things have been rather different for the four home-based members of the team. Lamb and Schmidt have just one competitive appearance this season, at the Jones Cup Invitational, while Jones has not played competitively at all. Amateur champion Long played against U.S. Amateur champion Tyler Strafaci in the Georgia Cup ahead of his appearance at this week’s Masters, but he also has been lightly raced, as they say in equestrian circles.
Under those circumstances, it is something of a surprise Englishman Jack Dyer did not find himself in the final 10 given his performances earlier this season in South Africa, where he finished runner-up in the South African Amateur, sixth in the African Stroke Play, seventh in the Cape Province Open, ninth in the Northern Amateur Open and 12th in the South African Stroke Play. Veteran Irishman Caolan Rafferty, who, at No 23, is the third highest-ranked GB&I player on the WAGR table, might also feel slightly aggrieved to not have retained his place, although his cause hardly was helped by the fact he has played only five events in the past 12 months due to the combination of a thumb tendon injury and COVID-19.
It has been rumoured that the lingering effects of the pandemic led the R&A to make an unsuccessful request to have the match postponed. That remains unconfirmed but what is clear is that the disruptions made the job of the selection committee chaired by Ireland’s Pádraig Hogan and also including Wilson, England’s Nigel Edwards and Welshman Carl Rowe more difficult than normal.
“It wasn’t ideal,” Wilson admitted. “We had our first meeting about a year ago but then COVID hit and our plans were disrupted.
“The R&A were very good about it. They agreed to organise a series of winter get-togethers but one by one they got cancelled. It was disappointing but there wasn’t a lot we could do about it.
“We had to rely on more historical results than we normally would but I’m still confident that we have picked a strong side.
“They are certainly all up for it. There’s no doubt about that.”
The plan now is for the home-based players and officials to fly to the States on Friday 30 April and meet up with the rest of the squad there, the captain confirmed.
“We’ve got some (COVID) tests to do first so we won’t get to the course until the weekend but that still gives us more than enough time to get ready. Quite a few of the players have already played Seminole so it’s not as if we’re going somewhere totally new.
“We’re all looking forward to it,” he added. “The Walker Cup is the pinnacle of an amateur’s career and, even though it’s going to be different this year without our family and friends being there to support us, it’s still going to be an occasion none of us will ever forget.”
Top: Alex Fitzpatrick tees off next to the Walker Cup at Royal Liverpool in 2019.